6 Players to Watch on Day 24 of the 2014 World Cup
The second day of the World Cup quarter-finals takes place on Saturday. Argentina are in action against Belgium in Brasilia in the day's early game before Netherlands play Costa Rica in Salvador afterward.
All four teams are battling it out for the right to join Germany and Brazil in the semi-finals and just one game away from making it to a World Cup final.
Here's a list of six players who have important roles to play on Day 24 of the World Cup. Feel free to use the comments section below to agree, disagree or add your own.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Lionel Messi didn't score against Switzerland in Argentina's last-16 tie. It was the first time that's happened during this tournament.
The records will show it was Angel Di Maria who got the goal. What they won't show is that it was Messi's run at the Swiss defence that created the chance.
Coach Alejandro Sabella told The Guardian's Dominic Fifield that's not the case:
Four years ago Messi was criticised for not contributing enough, and now people say we depend too greatly upon him. It’s not easy. Any team who has a player like Messi in their ranks—he’s the best player in the world—will greatly depend upon him, as a player. But there’s a group of players who support Messi, who make him stronger and make him feel well. I believe that the fact he’s done what he has here is down to the work the team puts in.
Messi's impact in Brazil—four goals in four games and four Man of the Match awards—has led to accusations Argentina are a one-man team.
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Belgium were struggling to break down the United States in their last-16 tie. But that was until Romelu Lukaku stepped off the bench.
His strength and pace helped set up Kevin De Bruyne to score the first. Then Lukaku scored his first goal of the tournament to ease Belgium's passage into the quarter-finals.
Coach Marc Wilmots must decide whether to start the Chelsea striker or 19-year-old Divock Origi against Argentina.
Lukaku's performance in extra time against the USA will at least tempt Wilmots to give the 21-year-old his chance from the start.
Angel Di Maria, Argentina
Judged by his own high standards, Angel Di Maria didn't have his best game against Switzerland in the last 16.
He gave the ball away again and again, and when he found himself in dangerous positions, he tried things that didn't come off.
But at the end of extra time, it was all irrelevant. The records will show that Di Maria scored the winning goal. It will probably be remembered that he did it with a crisp, first-time finish after Lionel Messi had run at the Swiss defence.
It was well-earned after Di Maria's tireless running in extra time when most of the other 21 players had long since stopped.
Alejandro Sabella told FIFA.com he was happy with the win over Switzerland but insists they'll have to improve to beat Belgium:
We deserved the win, but the ideal thing would have been to have got the job done in normal time. It goes without saying that winning is the most important thing and the only thing that really matters. ...
... Apart from the odd lapse in concentration here and there, I think the team played well. ...
... I’d like to congratulate my players on their great performance, though there are some areas where we need to improve.
Argentina will need another match-winner against Belgium in the quarter-finals. And Di Maria is one of their number with that ability.
Dirk Kuyt, Netherlands
At 33 years old, Dirk Kuyt might have felt his chances of starring at a World Cup were behind him.
But he's come to play an important role in Louis Van Gaal's improvised system. Fans of the Premier League will remember the former Liverpool man as a striker or advanced wide midfielder.
Pressed into action as a wing-back, he's been just as effective as he ever was further forward. Even Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has been impressed with Kuyt, according to De Telegraaf (h/t www.cruijff.com):
And take Dirk Kuyt. He starts as left back, than moves to right back and when the match calls for it he becomes a striker. As a team you are blessed when you have such a player among you. You can play any sort of tactics with a player like Kuyt.
He didn't play in Netherlands' first two games against Spain and Australia, but after performances against Chile and Mexico, he is likely to keep his place in the team to play Costa Rica.
Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
Costa Rica haven't had a shortage of heroes at this World Cup.
Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Jorge Luis Pinto—the list could include any of the players and staff who have played a part in their remarkable run to the quarter-finals.
Against Greece in the last 16, it was Keylor Navas. The Levante goalkeeper made a string of saves during the 120 minutes while many of his team-mates had lost the ability to move, let alone defend.
And in the shootout, the 27-year-old made the decisive stop from Theofanis Gekas' penalty.
Navas told The Guardian (h/t The Associated Press) that Costa Rica have nothing to lose against Netherlands: "It was only a dream for us, a dream that became a reality. A dream that was dreamt by an entire country."
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Netherlands
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had to wait for his chance to make his mark in Brazil, but when the opportunity finally arrived, he made the most of it.
With the Netherlands 1-0 down to Mexico in the last 16 and running out of ideas, it was Huntelaar's clever header that gave Wesley Sneijder the chance to equalise.
And when Arjen Robben won a late penalty, it was Huntelaar who stepped up to send his team into the quarter-finals.
The Schalke striker is likely to begin the quarter-final against Argentina on the bench. And he'll hope, if he's needed, he can have a similar impact to the one he had against Mexico.
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